Track Your Hike, Plot GPS with Garmin Fenix Watch

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Garmin is known for its running and biking watches, including the popular ForeRunner series. Last year, the brand came out with the Fenix, a watch geared toward outdoor adventure.

I started my test of the watch last month in Vail, Co., during a weekend of hiking and biking in the Rockies. Though I’ve used exercise watches for years, this was my first experience with a GPS watch.

The Fenix offers the standard altimeter, barometer, and compass functions, as well as a few unique features such as geocaches. With just a few button pushes I was out the door and tracking my route up the mountain in Vail.

Essentially, the Fenix is a small GPS device that mounts on your wrist. It costs $400, which is expensive but on par with the Sunnto Ambit, the Magellen Switch Up, and other GPS watches.

Garmin Fenix GPS watch

The GPS watch isn’t a new concept. But Garmin has managed to shrink the Fenix down quite a bit from other models — the face is about the same size as a normal watch but it’s 0.7 inches thick.

It weighs a somewhat hefty 2.9 ounces. For me, having never used a GPS watch, the Fenix felt bulky on my wrist. Its heft is noticeable on a run. This size is because the built-in GPS functionality requires more space inside the watch case.

I tested the watch running and biking in the Vail area as well as on several hikes since. For exercising, the watch is limited. Granted, it’s not built for that, though you can still get basic stats like distance and pace.

But outdoors the Fenix can excel, especially for hikers and climbers. The watch tracks pace and distance in realtime. Heading up a trail, you can glance down to note how far you’ve hiked and your minute-per-mile pace.

Also, unlike most outdoor watches, the Fenix allows you to connect to any ANT+ heart-rate strap.

The Fenix connects to satellites in a minute or less

On a wilderness trip, the Fenix will wake you up with its alarm and give you both a magnetic and a GPS-based compass barring. It has a temperature gauge and around 50 hours of battery life with the GPS turned on. (It can run up to 2 weeks on a charge with the GPS function off.)

You get started with this watch by pressing a button to connect to satellites. It syncs up and will then track your route for the day.

While hiking it grabs a GPS coordinate at an interval to create a line route. After the hike, I plugged the Fenix into my computer and downloaded the GPS route data.

The watch saves GPS in the common .gpx format. Garmin recommends using its free Basecamp program for downloading data off your watch.

Basecamp is Garmin’s platform for managing routes, waypoints, tracks and creating a training log. It also comes with a new feature called Garmin Adventures, which takes your GPS tracks and merges them with your photos.

Garmin Basecamp program

Basecamp is available for download on computers or as an app for smartphones. I used the program on my Mac and was able to animate a route on a 3D map in just a few clicks — very slick!

Overall, the Fenix is a bomber product for its intended use as an outdoors watch. It’s not the best bet for fitness or training but can stand in as a running watch with an HR strap where needed.

Buy this watch if you want GPS functions in a no-fuss package. In my use so far, the Fenix has been user-friendly, accurate, and a solid partner on the trail.

—Amy Oberbroeckling is an assistant editor.



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